First Drive

2015 Nissan Murano First Drive

Third Time's The Charm

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  • Engine
    3.5L V6
  • Power
    260 HP / 240 LB-FT
  • Transmission
  • Drivetrain
    Front-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,887 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    69.9 CU-FT (max)
  • MPG
    21 City / 28 HWY
  • Warranty
    3 Years / 36,000 Miles
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
The Murano has an interesting position within the Nissan stable. On one hand, its size puts it between the Rogue and Pathfinder, both of which are geared more toward families, big and small. And while the Murano could easily be used for hauling your brood, that's not exactly its forte. After all, unlike it's siblings, it offers no third row accommodations. There's no rear-seat entertainment system available. There are no clever storage systems.

That's because, in Nissan's eyes, the Murano is the flagship of its crossover range, and it's geared more toward older couples – empty-nesters, or folks who just never got around to having kids. This allows the Murano to be more premium in terms its styling and its available content. The Murano is less about taking the kids to soccer practice and more about taking four adults out to a wine tasting.

Premium styling is indeed the big story here – this Murano looks fantastic, and is a rather dramatic departure from the oft-disliked second-generation model it replaces. Beyond that, the new Murano is more in line with the radical-looking, first-gen CUV that debuted in the early 2000s. But Nissan says the whole Murano package was developed with this flagship theme in mind – the company's executives call this the Maxima of its crossovers. To find out if that all holds true for the 2015 Murano, I headed up to California wine country – the vehicle's natural habitat, I've been led to understand – to see what's what.
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When it came time to pen the 2015 model, Nissan strived to "push the reset button."

I don't think anyone loves the Nissan Murano as much as the automaker's senior creative manager in North America, Ken Lee. While presenting the third-generation crossover to members of the media during the car's launch in Napa, CA, Lee said it was the original Murano that made him want to work for Nissan in the first place. So when it came time to pen the 2015 model, Lee strived to "push the reset button," and create a product with an equally strong styling statement. The goal here was to design a Murano that would resonate as a premium vehicle not only as part of the Nissan lineup, but within the midsize crossover segment as a whole.

I use the word "resonate" for a reason. Think back to the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, when Nissan debuted its Resonance concept – an aggressive, modern showcar that clearly showed a new direction for not just the Murano itself, but for all of the Japanese automaker's future designs. Nissan wanted to create "a concept car for the road" with this new Murano, Lee said. The styling is perhaps the most important factor of this new model, and truth be told, it almost didn't turn out like this.

Good thing it did, though. The Resonance's conceptual elements look good in production form, like the powerful V shape that starts in the grille and runs up the hood, accented by angular headlamp clusters with LED running lamps. Along the sides, there's a strong character line extending from the front wheel well upwards toward the rear. From the front three-quarter view, the Murano looks sort of squat and plump, and the bold front elements look almost exaggerated. But things really smooth out when viewed in profile, and the vehicle looks much longer than before, even though the body has only been extended by about three inches. As for other dimensions, the Murano is just over an inch wider and half-an-inch shorter in height.

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Nissan will be incorporating the floating roof design into many of its future products.

The rear is where the new Murano really stands out, though. The strong, angled taillamps with the LEDs of this Platinum tester provide a bold signature to the rear fascia, and the floating roof design between the C and D pillars is something really unique. To my eyes, it looks fantastic. If you aren't a fan, you're going to be disappointed to learn that Nissan will be incorporating this styling element into many of its future products. And before I go any further, no, there will not be a CrossCabriolet version of this handsome fellow.

Top-end Muranos like the Platinum trim pictured here ride on 20-inch wheels reminiscent of those used on the larger Pathfinder, while entry- and mid-level Muranos use 18-inch rollers that are still upscale, attractive, and don't look puny in contrast to the large wheel wells and strong body design. Other Platinum trim goodies include the aforementioned LED daytime running lamps, as well as HID headlamps – neither of which are currently available on the larger Pathfinder.

In terms of being a "flagship," the Murano really does look like the most premium of Nissan's crossovers. It uses the boldest design, and has the strongest focus on styling, which is important, considering there isn't anything terribly revolutionary in terms of powertrain or mechanicals.

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There's nothing wholly remarkable about the way the Murano moves down the road, but that's no bad thing.

The biggest talking point for the 2015 Murano's engineering is its weight reduction – some 146 pounds have been removed thanks to stronger, lighter materials being used throughout its unibody construction. Otherwise, it's basically the same Murano as before. Under the hood is Nissan's ubiquitous VQ35DE, 3.5-liter, naturally aspirated V6, matched with the equally familiar Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, though buyers can opt for all-wheel drive on all trims for a $1,600 premium.

There's nothing wholly remarkable about the way the Murano moves down the road, but that's no bad thing. The V6 brings 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque to the table, which is plenty of grunt for this sub-4,000-pound CUV. It's not going to feel like a firecracker off the line, but the power is nicely metered-out by the CVT, and while I'm generally not a fan of ever-spinning continuously variable units, Nissan continues to have one of the best setups out there. There are 'shift points' baked into the tranny's programming that make the Xtronic setup feel more like a conventional automatic transmission, and that's good – essentially nothing about this CVT is off-putting, and it's nicely paired with the 3.5-liter V6. After all, this six-cylinder/CVT combo isn't new for Nissan – it's been nicely done in the Altima and Pathfinder for years, and the same can be said about its application in the Murano.

The retuned CVT, combined with a healthy weight reduction and aerodynamic improvements – the new Murano boasts a relatively slippery 0.31 drag coefficient – results in vastly improved fuel economy. The 2014 Murano (with the same 3.5-liter V6) was good for just 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg highway in FWD guise. But the 2015 model ups those numbers to 21/28 mpg city/highway – and that's for both front- and all-wheel-drive models, despite AWD adding 130 pounds of heft. Good stuff.

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All in, driving the Murano is perfectly pleasant.

Again, nothing about the Murano driving experience is particularly engaging, but both refinement and dynamics are appropriate and even above par for the segment. On the smooth, surprisingly wet roads around Napa Valley, the Murano was quiet and composed, with no sour moments. Body roll was there, but only in exactly the amount expected. Corners aren't really the Murano's forte, but it held its own when pushed. Brake feel was solid, with linear pedal feel. The steering was light, but there was enough feedback through the wheel to let me know what the front tires were doing (I drove a front-wheel-drive example). Speaking of tires, the Murano did have a tendency to wash out sooner than expected, but it should be known that the CUV now uses low-rolling-resistance rubber. Combined with decidedly damp roads, this didn't exactly make for a lot of driver engagement through turns. But again, this isn't a vehicle that'll ever be hustled. That isn't the point, and in the areas in which the Murano really needs to excel, it does.

All in, driving the Murano is perfectly pleasant. And considering the target buyers – empty-nesters, childless couples, or even small families – nothing about how the Murano goes about its business is shocking or underwhelming. The driver's chair offers a panoramic view of the road ahead, with an upright, comfortable driving position and good sight lines from all angles. Nissan has worked hard to deliver a hushed driving experience, and the engineers have done a fantastic job. Tire and wind noise are hardly noticeable, with a muted quality that's better than many of Nissan's more luxurious counterparts at Infiniti. In fact, if the Murano wore an Infiniti badge on its nose, I wouldn't think twice about it. This thing is really quite nice.

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Regardless of color and trim, the Murano's cabin is a fine place to be.

A lot of that has to do with the upscale interior of my Platinum tester, with a design that's familiar if you've ever sat in today's Rogue or Pathfinder, where high-quality materials are used throughout. There's the usual smattering of soft-touch stuff on the doors and dash, and the light cashmere leather of this tester was paired with a sort of strange light, glossy faux wood trim. One journalist described it as the "interior by Brunswick," and that's sort of appropriate – it looks more at home in a bowling alley than a midsize crossover, especially combined with the really light leather. The brushed aluminum accents and darker interior schemes look just as premium, and in fact, a bit nicer. Regardless of color and trim, the Murano's cabin is a fine place to be, but we can see why this particular color scheme is on a vehicle designed for the kidless – we suspect it wouldn't hold up well to crayons and sippy cups.

In front of the driver, there are easy-to-understood gauges with a large color LCD display in between, housing a wealth of infotainment, navigation and vehicle data. In the middle, there's a clean center console with a large touchscreen interface that facilitates a serious reduction of buttons versus previous Nissan interiors. Everything here is easy to use, with buttons and knobs exactly where you expect them. And the touchscreen system is clean, vibrant, and most importantly, responsive.

Up front, Nissan has employed its super comfy Zero-Gravity seats, available in either leather (heated and cooled) or cloth. Those same cushy, fatigue-free thrones are found in the outboard positions of the rear bench. The second row is spacious, with good headroom and legroom, and the seatbacks fold with a 60/40 split to allow up to 69.9 cubic feet of cargo space – a number that's competitive with classmates like the Ford Edge and Toyota Venza, not to mention the Subaru Outback. The seats fold totally flat with the pull of two levers in the rear cargo compartment, and lift electronically. Naturally, the liftgate has power assist on SL and Platinum trims.

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As a flagship for Nissan's CUVs, it's packed with the best of what the Japanese automaker offers.

Of course, like all new Nissans, there's a ton of helpful stuff on board, including the company's fantastic 360-degree Around View Monitor, the Easy Fill tire pressure system, and a whole mess of safety features – predictive forward collision alert, emergency braking with full-stop, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, and so on. Super safe, just like everything else that's up-to-date in the class.

Murano pricing remains competitive within its segment, with the base, front-wheel drive S starting at $29,560, not including $885 for destination. As I mentioned, all-wheel drive comes at a $1,600 premium on all models, and a fully loaded Platinum AWD tester with the optional technology pack comes in at $43,745. That's more expensive than, say, a Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited, but the Murano offers a more premium experience and less-conventional design, so the added coin really feels worth it. Even lower grade Muranos are quiet, comfortable, and feel genuinely nice inside.

Really, this third-generation Murano isn't all that different from its predecessor, especially mechanically. Instead, Nissan has indeed pushed the reset button to create a near-luxury CUV that's once again a more prominent styling statement for the brand, and the end result is a Murano that's handsome, premium, and pretty good to drive. As a flagship for Nissan's CUVs, it's packed with the best of what the Japanese automaker offers, and at first blush, it stands a good chance of captivating and resonating with buyers just like the first-gen model did more than a decade ago.

Nissan Murano Information

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